As countries in the Region commenced the roll-out of COVID-19 vaccines, the community of People Living with HIV (PLHIV) had concerns around the safety of the vaccines. Multiple concerns were related to their HIV status and possible interactions with Antiretroviral Therapy (ART) regimens which may lead to vaccine hesitancy in this population. The concerns were related to how the COVID-19 vaccine will impact their immune status, disease progression, and whether they were at higher risk for some of the adverse events reported in the media. To address these concerns, the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) collaborated with PANCAP to host a webinar on COVID-19 vaccines for PLHIV on 8 June 2021.

PAHO experts Dr Karen Broome and Dr Margherita Ghiselli presented to over 100 HIV clinicians, healthcare workers and PLHIV from across the Caribbean Region.

Dr Broome highlighted the significant impact of the pandemic on individuals, families, communities and nations. She underscored how the COVAX facility is supporting the availability of vaccines in the Region.

Dr Margherita Ghiselli placed the spotlight on COVID-19 vaccines for PLHIV. She emphasised that vaccines are critical for people with chronic conditions such as HIV. She also explained that the clinical trials included PLHIV, but safety data specific to this group is still limited. Her presentation also highlighted that there are no known interactions with ART medications and no adverse events associated with HIV status.

While there is no consensus on which CD4 count value should be used as a threshold (if any), people with weakened immune systems should be aware of the potential for reduced immune responses to the vaccine.

According to the WHO Strategic Advisory Groups of Experts (SAGE) for Immunisation, the groups prioritised for the COVID-19 vaccine do not include PLHIV with no aggravating risk factor that puts them at higher risk of COVID-19 infection and death. However, PLHIV with co-morbidities should be prioritised for early vaccination since their co-morbidities put them at higher risk of severe COVID-19 symptoms. These co-morbidities include COPD, asthma, diabetes, heart disease, kidney disease, liver disease, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, motor neuron disease, severe obesity, among others.

PAHO and PANCAP will continue to highlight the efficacy and safety of COVID-19 vaccines for PLHIV through the joint webinar series.